21 Day Cacao Challenge – The History of Cacao (Day 12)


Chocolate has a 4000-year history and has come a long way to reach you… intrigued?

Cacao is legendary.  It has a rich history in Mesoamerican native cultures and was seen as a gift from the gods.   Cacao was honoured as a sacred and powerful food and medicine for thousands of years.  It was used in ceremonies, rituals and offerings.  It was also used as a sacred drink to connect with the divine.

But where did it all start…?

The Olmec were one of the earliest civilisations (c1200-400BCE) to turn cacao into chocolate and consume this fermented bitter drink as part of ritual practice or as a medicine.

Later the Mayans praised Cacao as the drink of the gods.  Mayan ‘xocolatl’ (bitter water) was highly revered.  ‘Xocolatl’ was made from roasted and ground Cacao beans, then they added water and chillies.

During the 15th century the Aztecs used dried Cacao beans as a currency.  They also believed that cacao was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl and drank Cacao as an aphrodisiac and even when preparing for war.  During this time, Cacao was only drunk by high-ranking officials, priests and great warriors.

In 1492, Columbus was one of the first Europeans to learn of Cacao and sent beans back to Spain, however, no-one paid much attention to the beans as they were thought to be only a currency… little did they know, they could also eat it!

It was later in 1519, when the Spanish explorer / Pirate, Hernán Cortés, was introduced to cacao, whilst visiting the formidable Aztec Emperor Moctezuma.  Moctezuma had such an insatiable love for Cacao he drank a gold pitcher of it daily, for energy and vitality.  It was during this meeting that Cortez discovered that Cacao was considered a potent stimulant and in some cases an aphrodisiac.

Chocolate reaches Spain…

It is said that it was the explorer Hernán Cortés who brought chocolate to his homeland, Spain, in 1528.

Cacao was still served as drink; however, they started preparing their Spanish Cocao with cane sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to make it more drinkable.  This chocolate elixir was heavily taxed, so only the wealthy can afford it.

Monks were appointed as the processors of the cacao beans, in order to keep chocolate a secret.  They were successful for almost a century.  The Monks even used cacao as part of their religious practices.

Chocolate-mania develops in Italy…

The more widespread appreciation of this chocolatey drink is credited to an Italian traveller named Antonio Carletti, who in 1606 fell in love with the divine elixir.  He then took it back to Italy, where Chocolate-mania develops, and it is from Italy that chocolate spreads to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Europe is seduced by Chocolate…

The Spanish had managed to keep this divine elixir secret for almost a century before the treat reached neighbouring France, and then the rest of Europe.

When King Louis XIII of France married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III, in 1615, she brought decadent samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France to celebrate their union.

London’s hot chocolate craze began, in 1657, with the opening of one the first chocolate house.  Chocolate was still considered an exclusive beverage… following on from the Aztec Elitism of the 15th century.

In the meantime, Chocolate incites controversy…

By 1624, Cacao had become so popular that the Catholic Church had adopted it as beverage for fasting clergy, however, they did a 180, proclaiming cacao as an inflamer of passions and declaring it sinful to drink Cacao. 

After years of debate the Church finally agreed that if Cacao was consumed medicinally, it could be used as a substitute during fasting.

Cacao heads to America ….

Cacao arrived in the USA from Spain in 1641.  It is believed that one of the first American chocolate houses opened in 1682, in Boston.

By 1773, Cacao beans had become one of Americas major trade imports and chocolate was enjoyed by people of all classes.

During the Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783), soldiers were sometimes given chocolate as payment instead of money.  (Later in WWII, chocolate was provided as military rations)

The Chocolate Revolution…

Chocolate remained hugely popular among European aristocracy and was consumed for its health benefits, as well as its decadence.  However, chocolate was still produced by hand, which was a slow and laborious process.

The industrial revolution would change all that… with the innovative invention of the chocolate press.

In 1828, the Dutch Chemist and chocolate maker, Coenraad Van Houten, discovered a way to treat Cacao beans with alkaline salts to remove the bitter taste and making Cacao easier to dissolve in water, thus creating the ‘Dutch Process’.  Later, Coenraad’s father then developed an inexpensive way to separate cocoa butter from the cacao liquor, producing a cake that could then be pulverised into fine cocoa powder. 

This invention making it possible for cacao powder to be mixed with liquids and poured into moulds, where it would solidify into an edible bar of chocolate.

And just like that… the modern era of chocolate (as we know it today) was born.

Others went onto build on the success of Van Houtens invention, after his patent expired in 1838.

Chocolate goes Mainstream…

By the 19th century, European chocolatiers were finding ways to mass produce chocolate.  It is said that English Chocolatier J.S. Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar in 1847.  It was later that century when Daniel Peter introduced to the world, its first taste of milk chocolate, thanks to Henry Nestle’s condensed milk.  Rodolphe Lindt then invented the conch machine, turning cacao liquor into a silky-smooth velvety texture that has become synonymous with Lindt today.

And this is the story of how milk chocolate was brought to the masses and how Swiss Chocolate became famous.

It did not take long for cacao to become one of the most desired commodities in the world, with the real medicinal and nutritional value having been lost.

In Britain, we eat an estimated 660,900 tonnes of chocolate a year, which is an average of 11kg per person per year…. Equating to about 3 bars a week!

The revival of Cacao as Medicine…

After this powerful medicine has been hidden in plain sight as a confectionery, for over a hundred and fifty years, we are coming full circle as we start see the resurgence of Cacao in its original capacity of a Master Plant Medicine and a nourishing food source.

As we start to explore new ways of feeling happier and harmonious in our day to day lives, Cacao, in her form as a Master Plant Teacher, teaches us opens our hearts, calms our stress and anxiety.  When we drink Cacao as part of ceremony with others, creates a sense of oneness. She leaves us feeling loved up and awakens our consciousness.

I think it is truly beautiful that after all these years, we are beginning to seek the wisdom of Cacao and hold council for the wisdom of this powerful plant medicine, not only individually but as part of community gatherings.

What’s not to love… about feeling loved up?


Today’s Ritual was to consume our Cacao a feel gratitude in our hearts for the Cacao spirit and the journey it she has had to get to us in this moment.  We are drinking the food of gods, a powerful plant medicine that has been revered and celebrated for thousands of years!

Daily Intention:

To let go of my frustrations and see the positives in my day.

What am I Grateful for today?

I am grateful for the spontaneous sacred time I created for myself to reconnect with my inner stillness today.

One thing today that made me  feel ‘I Love my life’:

I love that I am alive!

How did I follow my intuition today (with what results?)

Honouring my need for sacred space, gave me the much needed time to slow down and let go.

What Physical Changes are taking place?

I have noticed that I have more stamina on long walks and interestingly, I am less breathless when I have been walking at pace.

Daily check in questions:

What difference did this Challenge Make to my day?

Today the challenge grounded me and centred me, which is exactly what I needed.

How is this challenge helping me achieve my goals?

By creating this space to reconnect with myself, I was able to create some stillness that re-energised me and allowed me to let go of any frustrations I was feeling earlier in the day.

How is this challenge impacting my relationships with nature, myself and other relationships?

Over the course of this challenge my relationship with myself has deepened and I can feel myself slowing down and not always feeling the need to be doing!

Do sign up for The Owl and The Wolf Newsletter, to keep posted on when we will be hosting our next online Cacao Ceremony or check out our website here.

Wise and Untamed

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